The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

5.  The Optional Protocol

93.  The former Minister explained that the Government does not generally see benefit in the ratification of Optional Protocols granting the right of individual petition to international bodies, because the decisions of international monitoring bodies are not binding.[99] She explained that the Government was waiting to publish the results of the Ministry of Justice's review of the experimental ratification of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW (the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women). She told the Committee that no decision had been taken, but a decision not to ratify the Optional Protocol should not be taken to "imply that [the Government's] commitment to human rights for disabled people is somehow reduced."

94.  The TUC told the Committee:

The Optional Protocol offers the means for individuals to seek redress under the Convention and the TUC supports UK citizens having the means to enforce the rights that the Government has signed up to. Not to ratify the Protocol at the same time as the Convention would signal a retreat from the principles underlying both.[100]

95.  The EHRC added a number of additional reasons for ratification of the Optional Protocol. These included that:

  • the Opinions of the Committee will create greater understanding of how the Convention should be developed and interpreted and the UK is in a good place to help with this (the Committee will be able to praise examples of good practice as well as to help to develop further any inadequate policies);
  • it will allow the domestic courts to start to take account of the Convention once the Committee starts to be asked for its views of decisions from the UK courts; and
  • it is difficult to see any arguments against granting this extra right to people with disabilities - after all if the Government is confident that the UK laws and policies comply then there will be very few successful cases.[101]

96.  The European Commission proposes that the European Community should ratify the Optional Protocol. If this is agreed, it is unclear how this would affect citizens within the UK. It is likely that if the EC were to ratify the Optional Protocol, but the UK did not, EU citizens in the UK could bring individual cases to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on issues where the EC had exercised its competence (for example, in relation to employment), but not in relation to other matters.

97.  We asked the Minister to explain the Government's approach to the Optional Protocol. He told us that the Government did not fear a flood of applications under the right of individual petition. He noted the ongoing review by the Ministry of Justice of the UK ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (the CEDAW review) and explained that despite this review, his office was canvassing views of other Government departments on whether the UK should sign and ratify the Optional Protocol, accepting the right of individual petition. The outcome of the CEDAW review was published by the Ministry of Justice on 4 December 2008.[102] The Minister for Human Rights explained that the value of that review had been limited as the number of cases brought (two) had been statistically insignificant. He confirmed that the Government would now review the merits of ratification of individual mechanisms for individual petition to international human rights bodies on a case by case basis. [103]

98.  We consider that the benefits of ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UNCRPD are reasonably clear. The UK has led the field in pushing for the acceptance of the Convention and advocating the rights of people with disabilities to equal treatment. We have received evidence that the right to individual petition is considered an essential part of participation in the Convention by disabled people and their organisations. In addition, we consider that the participation of the UK, from an early stage, in the interpretation of the Convention and the development of its monitoring mechanisms would be valuable not only for disabled people in the UK, but for the ongoing development of the Convention at an international level. In any event, should the European Commission proceed to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, we could end up with the absurd situation that disabled people in the UK could take their cases to the UN, but only in relation to areas of law or policy where the EC had exercised competence, not purely domestic legislation or administrative action. In the field of equality and non-discrimination this is likely to leave a limited area where the UN monitoring mechanism would not apply. We recommend that the Government undertakes to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol at the same time as it ratifies the Convention.

99   Ev 20 Back

100   Ev 28 Back

101   Ev 41 para 3.13 Back

102   Ministry of Justice, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, The Experience of the United Kingdom: An Evaluation, Professor Jim Murdoch, 4 December 2008. Back

103   HC Deb, 4 Dec 2008, Col 11WS Back

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